Father Felix Varela is depicted in a painting from the Felix Varela Foundation of New York. The Cuban-born priest, known as a promoter of human rights, freedom for slaves and independence for Cuba from Spain, immigrated to the United States in 1823. He f ounded Transfiguration Church in New York and served as vicar general of the Archdiocese of New York. The Cuban bishops initiated his cause for sainthood in the 1980s.
Catholic News Service
The Vatican has declared as venerable Father Felix Varela, a 19th-century Cuban priest who worked in New York for many years and also lived in Florida.
The action recognizes the priest lived heroic Christian virtues and is the first official step on the priest’s path to sainthood.
The second step is beatification, and the third is sainthood. In general, each of those steps needs a miracle to be accepted by the church as having occurred through the intercession of the prospective saint.
Father Varela, who died in exile in the United States in 1853, is not only a model of holiness for Cuban Catholics; both the communist government and its opponents invoke him as an inspiration for their actions.
Father Varela was an outspoken supporter of Cuban independence. His opposition to the Spanish monarchy led to his exile in 1823.
He went to the United States where he served as a priest in New York and became vicar general of what was then a diocese. He founded Transfiguration Church in what is now Manhattan’s Chinatown. And, although other Cuban exiles -- most of whom were well-off -- lived in New York at the time, Father Varela is known for his devoted pastoral care of the city’s poorest residents, many of whom were Irish immigrants.
The priest became ill and moved to St. Augustine, Fla. He was familiar with the area because he had spent time there as a child with his grandfather, who had been a fort commander in what at the time was a Spanish possession. He died in Florida.